RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Republican leaders of the General Assembly are considering how much to increase pay for educators after Gov. Roy Cooper (D) this week said he would push for them to receive “double-digit raises.”
The governor made the comment in his State of the State address, saying the budget proposal he puts forth soon will fully fund a court-ordered plan for schools and would not raise taxes.
“The budget I present to you invests in the entire education plan ordered by the court. It gives teachers and principals double-digit raises, it keeps the buses running, it helps kids with special needs, it keeps schools safe, it does not raise taxes and it balances the budget,” Gov. Cooper said.
With North Carolina on track to have a surplus this year of more than $3 billion, the Republican leaders of the legislature announced this week they’ve agreed to increase spending by 6.5 percent in the fiscal year that starts July 1 and 3.5 percent the following year.
Last week, the State Board of Education, which includes Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, called for teachers to receive raises in excess of 10 percent. The board is also calling on the legislature to approve a pilot program to change how teachers are licensed and paid, basing that on performance.
“Given what we have seen thus far where the budget will go, that may crowd out raises for a bunch of other folks,” said Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) when asked about the governor’s comments. “It’s more appropriate for us to look at that in the context of what are the raises going to be for state employees? What are we going to do for the folks at universities? Do we need to target raises in other places? So, I just don’t know that you can look at it in isolation like that.”
Cooper’s proposal comes as schools and various state government agencies are struggling to fill vacant positions. Late last year, the vacancy rate across state government climbed to 22.5 percent.
“Right now we’re gonna do as much as we can afford when it comes to teachers and state employees,” said House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland). “What we’re trying to do is instead of just a one-size-fits all, just do something for everybody, but also take care of those really high-demand areas where we’re having difficulty in finding and retaining that talent.”
Moore suggested targeting higher raises to areas like technology, engineering, math and nursing.
“Those are high-demand areas. And, they’re areas where the private sector, partially due to inflation and other pressures, the salaries are just moving at an exponential rate, faster than what the state can,” he said.
Wake County teacher Kim Mackey said she’s concerned about the ability of North Carolina to attract and retain high-quality teachers, as pay has not kept up with the rate of inflation. The base starting pay for teachers is $37,000 per year.
“When the private industry is willing to pay significantly more and our General Assembly hasn’t shown an interest in competing with them, they’re doing what they have to do for their livelihoods,” she said. “A lot of folks stay, like me, because we’re really passionate. But, there comes a point where we can’t be financial martyrs either.”
Speaker Moore said the House is on track to unveil and vote on its version of the state budget the first week of April. Following that, Sen. Berger said he thinks the Senate could pass its version by mid-May and keep the legislature on track to send a finalized budget to the governor before the new fiscal year begins on July 1.